Season 2, Episode 2
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
Deep under the soil, in the veins of granite and flint, and through the flows of basalt, there is life and activity. Precise and well-maintained tunnels connect mineral deposits to great domed chambers, some natural and improved-upon, others entirely artificial. There are forges in the depths, where simple tools and finely machined parts alike are created in the ruby glow of raw magma.
Everywhere else in those tunnels and chambers it is dark. Darker than night, as dark as the fabled first night between the ending of the world and it’s beginning. Those who live and work, create and play, at the roots of the earth, remember light but need it not.
“Ahh, that’s good,” a voice like a landslide murmured in satisfaction.
“Yeah, it’s real tight,” said another voice, still deep and stony, but more like a cascade of pebbles. “Jes’ a little more torque.”
“Don’ bust the nut.”
“Ye needn’t worry about me. There, perfect fit.” This was followed by a high trilling noise, meaningless to human ears. To the one who heard it, however, it perfectly described a spatial relationship and the joining of two complex and delicate pieces of machinery.
“Good, now lend me a hand.”
“Lend…you a hand? Bwahahahaha!”
“Eh? What’s funny?”
“Oh, ye old greybeard. You never heard that one before?”
“No, I dinna, and watch who you’re calling greybeard, y’wee bruin.”
“Shall we wrestle for it? I ken take ye.”
“Ha! Naw, no time for that now. Jes’ tell me and we’ll call it even.”
“Well, back up topside, we used to say ‘lend a hand’ for what you and me did before we got to work.”
“Eh? Didya really? Back in my day, we called that the fisherman’s handshake.”
“That does it!” The slightest scratch of a toenail upon stone was the only clue to the coming attack.
A series of thumping noises echoed and rebounded in the vast, acoustically perfect space.
“Yowch! No pullin’ hair!”
“You didn’t say nothing aeforehand.”
“Ow! Very well then…”
“There! Gotcha by the stones!”
“Okay, okay, I yield!”
“Now you’ll show some respect.”
“Watch it, you…”
“Hey!” boomed a new voice, one that rumbled like an earthquake. “Are ye two done on that side?”
“Eh? Oh, yes, Valan.”
“Good! Now come give me a hand over here!”
“Snort! Ha ha ha!”
“Out wit’ it. What madness has gotten into yew?” Valan asked.
“Ah…I’ll explain later,” said Greybeard.
“Right then, as soon as this gasket’s slotted in and we drive the spoke in,” Valan’s voice broke into that high trilling noise for a few seconds, “then we’ll be done.”
“Really? The big machine’s ready then?” asked the younger.
“Naw, but that’s all for today. Besides, seein’ ye lads all tusslin’ has given me a blunt stiffie.”
“Hey, greybeard! He called you a lad!”
“He’s got more right ‘ta call me a lad than you do to go tossin’ imprecations around.”
“Ey, Valan, what’s it gonna do when it’s finished?” the younger pressed.
“Well, it’s something like this,” Valan began to trill in a voice as high and light as his speaking voice was deep and thick. His trilling was melodic, quasi-musical, and as he continued, his voice acquired increasing complexity until it sounded more like the work of a choir than a single throat. He continued for several minutes before abruptly stopping.
There was a moment of pure silence, before Greybeard’s deep voice whispered, “that’s beyond my ken.”
“But can you sum it up, in terms of what we’ll do with it?” said the younger with a voice like sifted gravel.
“Now, now, laddie, y’ken that’s a secret.”
“Aye, but it’s jes’ me and greybeard here. We ken keep a secret.”
“Don’ involve me in this…” said Greybeard.
“Mebbe you could, but the earth has ears, an’ I hate secrets.”
“Then why’re you mum about this?”
“‘Cause I have to be, that’s all. Only reason ol’ Valan ever kept a secret, cause I had to,” Valan said.
“Eh, Valan, ken I ask you a favor?” the younger asked.
“You sound real serious all a sudden, bruin.”
“Go ahead, then.”
“I want to go topside, just fer a bit, and to dig a new bit out to Talhome.”
“Topside? And a new tunnel?” came Greybeard’s voice like a landslide. “Did ye hit yer head?”
“Now Argos, let the lad speak.”
“I been having this dream, and I feel it in my bones, like it’s itching to get out. Ye ever feel that way, Valan?”
“Aye, every time I think of a new machine to build.”
“So, ken I go?”
“Valan! Ye can’t mean it,” Greybeard—Argos—protested.
“He has to do this, Argos.”
“But what if he doesn’t come back?”
“Ye’ll be careful, won’t you, lad?”
“Aye, I promise!”
“An’ come back to yer family safe and sound?”
“It’s dangerous topside, an’ we’ve lost good lads before,” said Argos.
“I ken,” the younger assured him.
“Verra well then. You’ll be wanting a diggah?” asked Valan.
“I could do it with a spade, if’n I had to.”
“Ha! That’s the spirit. Only one thing to do, then. Argos, gather the boys.”
“All of ’em, Valan? That’ll slow things down a bit.”
“Aye, all of them. We have to give our wee bruin a proper sendoff.”
“We’ll make it a proper orgy then. I’ll ask Kaenath to open a cask of the good stuff.”
“Really? Ye’d do all that for me?” the younger asked.
“We all would, laddie.”
“Aw, Argos, you’re sweet, for an old greybeard.”
“Greybeard! C’mere you whelp, I’ll box yer ears!”
Valan stood alone for a while after Argos chased the younger Dwarf down a nearby passage. He loved his lads, every one. If there had been any light to see by in that great cavern at the roots of the earth, and any eyes that use light to see, they would have seen that Valan’s long hair and beard were snow-white, and that the dense curls on his arms, legs, chest, groin, and down his back were all of the palest silver.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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